Gloucester supervisors consider tax increases

Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Mar 08, 2012 - 06:29 PM

Gloucester taxpayers would see a 17.24 percent increase in their real estate taxes and an 11.54 percent hike in personal property assessments if county supervisors approve the draft FY 2013 budget as presented on Wednesday night.

County Administrator Brenda Garton unveiled her proposal—which calls for a 10 cent increase per $100 of assessed value on the real estate and a 30 cent increase per $100 on the personal property levy—during the board of supervisors meeting, which was held in the colonial courthouse.

The proposed $109 million budget is faced with many challenges. The county will see an increase in expenditures of about $1.3 million in areas Garton said the county cannot control. This includes increases in Virginia Retirement Service rates, projected health insurance rates, life insurance rates, radio system maintenance and utility department debt.

She said the county is also faced with a projected decline in revenue and almost no funding for capital items over the past four years.

The Gloucester County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to advertise the 10 cent increase on the real estate tax, but also chose to advertise the possibility of a 50 cent increase on personal property. The board’s reasoning for doing this was to provide flexibility if, at the public hearing, it heard an overwhelming outcry from citizens to fund areas that are not addressed in the proposed budget.

According to Garton, the proposed 10 and 30 cent increases will bring approximately $5 million in additional revenue to the county. Gloucester’s current tax rates are $0.58 per $100 of assessed value on real estate and $2.60 per $100 for personal property.

Garton recommended no changes to the current rates on boats, machinery and tools and the mosquito and sanitary district ad valorem taxes.

Among other items, the proposed budget includes a recommended 4 percent raise for both county and school employees. Garton said Gloucester County employees have not seen a raise since July 1, 2008.

Over the past four years, Garton said, she has been faced with tough decisions, making deep cuts. Recently, she said, Gloucester has lost valuable personnel who have left to find jobs in other localities for financial reasons. “When I introduced this budget, I introduced it as a spending plan to protect county assets,” Garton said. The county’s biggest assets, she said, are its employees. “In some cases, they are very difficult to replace,” she said.

Garton said she sought to strike a balance between providing a suitable raise for employees and not placing an undue burden on county taxpayers. Garton looked at the cumulative increase in cost of living since employees last received a raise, which she said is between 7 and 8 percent. “I tried to come up with a percentage that would be defensible … not too much extra that the board would not consider it, but also an increase that would be fair to county employees,” Garton said.

According to Garton, if she had to make a balanced budget without any tax increase, the county would face layoffs and whole operations would have to be shut down. She said there would be no money to cover capital improvement needs at all and the utilities debt service would have to be paid for by cutting positions.

The Gloucester School Board requested a $4.2 million increase in local funds. However, Garton’s proposed budget provides only an additional $2 million transfer to the schools. That includes $400,000 for school capital projects, far short of the roughly $6 million the school board has requested.

As proposed, the budget includes an average water and sewer service rate increase of 5 percent in the public utilities department, she added. The budget also includes a transfer from the general fund of $296,500 for the first payment on $3.8 million in new debt and $397,743 to address other utility fund needs, Garton said.

Garton said there is an increase in the transfer from the general fund to the social services department of $218,682. She said the department will see reductions in state and federal revenue totaling more than $337,000, all the while seeing an increase in residents using its services.

The board of supervisors will meet jointly with the county’s school board at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 29 at Gloucester High School to discuss the school division’s financial needs in greater detail. The board of supervisors will hold its public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 12, also at Gloucester High School.

Following the public hearing, supervisors are scheduled to hold two budget work sessions, one on April 17 and a second on April 19, each to begin at 7 p.m. in the colonial courthouse. The county board is scheduled to adopt its budget on April 24.

Garton’s complete proposed fiscal year 2013 budget is available online at www.gloucesterva.info.

In other news, it was the consensus of the board of supervisors at Wednesday night’s meeting to keep the $18 million commitment from the previous board to help fund a solution for the loss of Page Middle School that occurred during the April 16 tornado.